Pittsburgh police misuse of drug fund cited

Review of records shows questionable spending

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In September 2009, the Pittsburgh police bureau, lacking enough drinks to hydrate officers working the G-20 Summit, spent nearly $10,000 in cash on Gatorade at two Sam's Club stores.

But police officials wrongly tapped a special fund to be used only for expenses linked to investigations of narcotics violations.

The fund was reimbursed -- though not before city Solicitor Daniel Regan noted the breach of protocol in a memo later that year to city Controller Michael Lamb.

The Gatorade purchase is one of many questionable expenditures from the fund not related to narcotics investigations during a five-year period, according to records reviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And though the Law Department weighed in against it, when the city needed to send officers to Florida on a legal mission, it tapped the fund again.

PG graphic: Flow of funds
(Click image for larger version)

Those expenditures appear to conflict with the fund's permitted use, according to both police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson and Mr. Lamb.

"We cannot use it for just anything. We have to use it for something that is narcotics-related," Deputy Chief Donaldson said Tuesday morning before the Post-Gazette learned details of the fund's use. "Is it used for travel purposes? If we want to send the narcotics people to specific training, that would be appropriate and we can use the funds for that. It has to be connected to narcotics enforcement, narcotics activity."

Narcotics Cmdr. Cheryl Doubt Tuesday night blamed acting Chief Regina McDonald for the Gatorade purchase, saying the chief authorized it but should have known better since she had once been in charge of the narcotics unit and knew the parameters for using the fund.

"I was there when Regina McDonald asked and said, 'Can we take the money for Gatorade out of asset forfeiture?' I said, 'I keep telling you all that you have to be very careful with what you pay for out of that money.' I got so [ticked] off that I left."

Chief McDonald could not be reached for comment. She has been criticized recently by police officers, the police union and some public officials for overseeing a police bureau office now under federal investigation for possible misappropriation of funds.


PDFs


Gatorade expenses


City spokeswoman Marissa Doyle said public safety director Michael Huss was not available Tuesday evening for comment.

The Confiscated Narcotics Proceeds Imprest Fund was created by City Council in 1987. Its balance was doubled to $30,000 in 1989. The original resolution limits the fund's use to "any and all expenses associated with investigations of narcotics violations."

The fund is meant to receive money the city gets when the police bureau participates with federal law enforcement in drug investigations that lead to asset forfeitures.

From January 2011 through June 2012 the fund took in $172,970, according to a controller's audit.

The city applies to the Department of Justice for a share of the forfeiture proceeds.

"Federal rules say it has to be spent on law enforcement," said Mr. Lamb, a mayoral candidate. "The city took it a step further and said it has to be spent on narcotics investigations."

Several ranking Mayor's Office and Department of Public Safety officials who might be able to explain the chain of command for fund spending could not be reached Tuesday evening.

Asked who oversees the fund, Deputy Chief Donaldson said, "The narcotics commander directly and the assistant chief of investigations would also have oversight over it."

Cmdr. Doubt, however, said she had no control over the fund and did not even know its balance.

"I didn't control it. I didn't even know what was in it. And I had voiced objection to that many times," Cmdr. Doubt said.

Neither Assistant Chief of Investigations George Trosky nor his predecessor, Maurita Bryant -- whose signature appears often on the approval line of "request for funds" forms -- could be reached for comment. City and police officials Tuesday night could not explain why the fund paid for:

• $9,547 worth of Gatorade for police working the G-20 Summit, which was later reimbursed to the trust fund from the city's general fund. Documentation states "There was no time to formulate a contract and have the Gatorade when needed";

• $4,394 for lodging for three bureau employees who were sent to Miami in 2012 to interview police there who were accused of brutality in lawsuits stemming from the G-20 Summit;

• $4,599 for four training trips in 2011 and 2012 involving Sgt. Barry Budd, a co-organizer with former chief Nate Harper in the business venture Diverse Public Safety Consultants LLC;

• $3,781 for three polygraph training trips in 2010 and 2012 for Detective Scott Evans, who also runs Evans Polygraph Services;

• $11.50 for tolls and a car wash for police spokeswoman Diane Richard in 2007;

• $2,750 for training in Tennessee in 2008 at The Lampo Group allowing then-Assistant Chief of Operations William Bochter to became a certified debt reduction instructor.

"It should not have been paid out of that fund," Mr. Bochter said, adding that he had no idea that it was until being contacted by a reporter. "How it's funded -- you take it on face value that it's funded properly."

Mr. Bochter said the course allowed him to train Pittsburgh police officers "how to get out of debt, get rid of credit, [prepare] yourself for funding your kids' college, your retirement, and it's got some spirituality about it."

Mr. Bochter said he thought the course was a valid taxpayer expense.

"If you have officers who are in a situation where money is the driving influence in their lives because they're deep in debt, they could potentially become more easily corrupted than somebody who's got their ducks in a row, who does not have the financial burden of having excess debt, which makes them better employees and better police officers," he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not provide answers Tuesday to questions about oversight of the fund and whether the agency audits it.

City Controller's Office audits published in 2010 and 2013 revealed sloppy record-keeping, a lack of receipts, missing signatures and incomplete accounting.

The audit from Jan. 28 found that forfeiture money was being spent on law enforcement -- which it characterized as "permissible under the [federal] program" -- but that travel and training expenses covered by the fund were not always backed by receipts.

Travel and training made up $41,131 of the $181,763 spent by the fund from Jan. 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, the audit said. Around two-thirds of the money was spent on vehicles, communications and equipment, and Mr. Lamb said that by and large, that spending is related to narcotics work.

What about the dispatch of three officers in July on a four-day trip to Florida for, as they wrote on travel request forms, "interviews of Miami-Dade officers who are involved in ... lawsuits [against the city stemming from the G-20 Summit] at the request of the attorneys representing the city"?

"It doesn't sound to me that there's a narcotics component there," said Mr. Lamb, "so it could be problematic when we do the next audit."

A frequent recipient of training at the expense of the fund was Sgt. Budd, a member of the police intelligence squad working out of police headquarters.

Receipts at the city controller's office indicated that the $2,621.21 cost of unspecified training for Sgt. Budd at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., from Aug. 21, 2011, through Sept. 3, 2011, was covered by the narcotics trust fund.

The fund also paid $666.84 for training that Sgt. Budd and another officer received in November 2011 for what is described on the documentation only as "Title IX Training."

Sgt. Budd declined to explain what Title IX was, why an intelligence unit member's training was being covered by narcotics trust fund dollars, or to make any other comment.

Chief McDonald, who was then assistant chief, signed the fund voucher.

Sgt. Budd in September 2012 went for a five-day meeting in San Diego of intelligence commanders and legal officers, sponsored by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Again, the $568.72 in costs was covered by the fund.

The fund reimbursed Sgt. Budd for part of the fees associated with attending the Major Cities Chiefs Legal Advisors meeting in Chicago.

Sgt. Budd is a licensed attorney.

That's far from the only out-of-town training Sgt. Budd got in recent years.

Records provided by the controller's office at the Post-Gazette's request indicate that in 2008 he went to Las Vegas for SWAT supervision training. In 2011 the bureau paid $3,435.25 to cover a total of about three weeks of training in Glynco, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Harrisburg, regarding intelligence, urban security and protective services.

Then-Assistant Chief of Investigations Bryant signed off on her own request for $4,200 from the narcotics fund so she could attend Leadership Pittsburgh XXVI.

Leadership Pittsburgh is a program in which cohorts of "established local leaders" meet in sessions and complete projects meant to learn about themselves, expand their networks, and improve their skills and the community, according to the nonprofit agency's website.

Assistant Chief Bryant's sister, Ms. Richard, the police spokeswoman, on March 27, 2007, signed a form requesting $11.50 in funds because "the above funds were used to pay for tolls and vehicle maintenance on a training trip."

Attached was a March 16, 2007, receipt for a $1.25 toll paid on the West Virginia Turnpike; a March 24, 2007, receipt for a $1.25 toll paid on the West Virginia Turnpike; and a $9 receipt seeking reimbursement for a car wash at Unique Auto Wash at 5770 Butler St.

"You're kidding me," Cmdr. Doubt said when told of Ms. Richard's expenses.

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Staff writers Joe Smydo and Moriah Balingit contributed. Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com. Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com. Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com.


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